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Minge Interests

Ah, Edinburgh. The one place I go to each year where I pretend to be cool, as I hang around the Pleasance, sipping a Diet Coke, reading Mac User in lieu of actually owning a Macbook, and spying on Steve Punt. But enough of my personal problems - onto the shows.

The Trap's Bad Play: Second Coming

The Trap - Bad Play: The Second Coming photoPaul Litchfield. Dan Mersh. Jeremy Limb. They are The Trap, and they are also three of my favourite comedy performers of all time.

This is the fourth Bad Play (they've done one a year at Edinburgh since 2003), and whilst it sounds like the archtypal one-joke premise - spoofing pretentious "issues" theatre (much like the League Of Gentlemen's Legz Akimbo, only a lot funnier) - it's simply used as a basis for a whole load of other stuff.

This year's topic is Christ's second coming, and continues the trend of at least one gratuitous use of the word "cunt", and more tasteless jokes. (The best involving a still of a Abu Ghraib torture victim on their technologically advanced video wall. No, it's funny. Honestly. Seriously. Look, shut up. It's satire, or something.)

The danger with doing a play about a group of incompetent actors doing a shit play is that unless you're careful, all you're doing is a shit play with a group of incompetent actors, with added winks. Which wouldn't be much fun. Luckily, The Trap entirely avoid this - and they do this is by doing the things that are supposedly "real" (as opposed to stuff that's supposed to be the Bad Play itself) perfectly. The best example of this is their interactions with the video wall - I won't ruin it for you, but their split-second timing has to be seen to be believed.

Sadly, Second Coming doesn't see The Trap at their absolute best - I came out of the third Bad Play last year in a combination of awe and hysterics. Unfortunately this year, whilst there's plenty of laughs, there's not the same absolute brilliance, with nothing matching the "Get them, you cunts!" of Bad Play 3. (Don't ask.) And whilst the ending is technically impressive, and interesting for a time, it also goes on too long, and isn't particularly funny with it. There's also a feeling that the requisite inter-cast arguing just isn't as inspired this year; possibly it's the one element that is showing signs of tiredness.

It's still brilliant, and well deserving of four stars, however. Let's hope that next year shows a return to their best.

4 Stars

Russell Howard - Wandering

Photo of Russell HowardStand-up comedy. It is not a medium I treat kindly. Perhaps this is simply a reflection that the first stand-up I ever saw was Lee & Herring, and throughout that show I genuinely had difficulty breathing. Just like your first Doctor Who being The Talons Of Weng-Chiang, anything you watch after that has to be the absolute best - or it's going to come up short.

But there's more to it than that. I'm more tolerant of bad sitcoms, or indeed bad Doctor Who, than I am of bad stand-up. In the worst sitcom there's usually something to enjoy - if only because you can turn the sound down and concentrate on a nice pair of tits, or something. But there's little worse than having to sit through a terrible stand-up act, with the room entrenched in acute embarassment.

The reason I mention all this? Because last year, at a "comedy" night in Exeter (almost a contradiction in terms anyway), Howard was the one person who saved the show. After a succession of appalling acts, he came on, and without having heard of him beforehand, blew me away. And his approach to stand-up is simple - go on stage, and take the piss out of your yourself and your family for an hour.

It's difficult to say exactly what's so great about Russell. (Which is code for "I'm a shit reviewer", but let's continue.) It helps that he's immediately likeable, with seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm, without being irritating. It also helps that he has an amazing confidence, without tipping over into arrogance. He also manages to avoid tedious overt laddishness, and tedious posturing. Russell manages to tackle lots of difficult subjects... but does them in a breezy, happy way. And that's part of what comedy is all about.

Still, despite the rating below... he did disappoint me slightly this year. Like The Trap, I know he's capable of sending me off into barely-breathing territory - but whilst he provided plenty of laughs (including an excellent routine about his brother's epileptic fit), there wasn't anything that sent me off into complete hysterics. And that's a shame, when he's absolutely capable of doing so. He's a great ad-libber, but when I saw him, he didn't use his capacity to ad-lib enough. It's when he's reacting against an audience that he truly flies.

Still, not every stand-up gig is the same. He's definitely capable of a five star show, and if I'd shown up a day later, that's possibly what he would have provided. Well worth you going to see next time he's near you.

4 Stars

Jim Henson's Puppet Improv

Puppet Up logoPicture the scene.

You walk into a theatre. You sit down. You note the camera sitting at head-height at the front of the stage, and the monitor beside you. You sit there for twenty minutes, dying of thirst. And then you forget everything... as a group of puppeteers walk on-stage, do a hilarious scripted routine concerning Piddles the Dog, and then do a series of improvised sketches with suggestions from the audience.

...Oh yeah, and that group of puppeteers just happens to include Brian Henson.

I liked this show.

As the introduction to the show states, it really is two shows in one. You can either look at the monitors and watch the puppets themselves (the camera is set at a height so you can't see the puppeteers), or you can watch the stage and see the puppeteers do their thing - they're not hiding behind a set or anything, so you can see exactly how they do their thang. In practice, your eyes flit from one to the other - both shows are equally as incredible.

The way the show works is pretty simple. The host, Patrick Bristow, gives a pre-planned format for a sketch - say, a 50s Public Information Film. Then he gets suggestions from the audience for what it should contain - in the show I went to, it involved the dangers of feeling "a beast's ass". Everyone shouts "Puppet Up!", and then the skit starts. When a suitable point has been reached (usually an obvious tagline that they've just improvised), Patrick will shout "Blackout", and it ends, to rapturous applause.

The improvisation is just a joy to behold. There's obviously some pre-planned fallback lines here and there, and the fact that the same sketch formats are used every night gives the puppeteers something to grab onto - but this doesn't alter the fact that most of this stuff is pure improvisation. And it works, too - the sketches are all very funny, with very little that doesn't work.

It's interesting to note that whilst it's called Jim Henson's Puppet Improv, the fact that Brian Henson is up on stage as well isn't made a big thing of in the publicity for the show. Of course, the fact you've got Jim Henson in the title means you don't need it so much... but I like to think that Brian Henson is a big old hippy who wouldn't want his name to overshadow the other talented puppeteers there. And he's treated exactly the same as any of the others on-stage by the host. Which is just brilliant.

Oh, and I just have to mention Julianne Buescher. She is both ridiculously talented, and has a firm arse. I have to admit, I spent the show alternately being amazed by her prowess, and thinking "she must have strong arms"... and that lead me down the route of a very satisfactory fantasy.

There are two versions of the show performed; one for adults, and one for kids. I saw the adult one, and there's always a slight danger of stuff that's usually aimed at kids but with extra rudery, being slightly depressing. Luckily, this wasn't the case at all; the opening song, which contains the word 'fuck' rather a lot of times, is witty regardless, as is the rest of the show - it didn't rely on the swearing. What was slightly depressing was the unoriginality of some of the audience's suggestions (HA HA, THEY SAID MASTURBATION!), but our host Partick deftly deflected most of these by pointing out that they'd done them before, and demanded some more original ideas.

I can't put the brilliance of this show into words. It is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the best shows I've ever seen in my life. Incredible performances, incredible improvisation, incredible craftmanship. If you ever get a chance to see this - go. Just go.

5 Stars

About this entry


>incredible craftmanship. If you ever get a chance to see this - go. Just go.

Still talking about Buescher's ass?

By Philip J Reed, VSc
August 21, 2006 @ 1:05 pm

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>Still talking about Buescher's ass?

I'm afraid so. You should have heard the whining when he realised he wouldn't have a chance to letch over ex-children's TV presenter Kirsten O'Brien in her own show. Minge Interests couldn't be a more apt title.

By Tanya Jones
August 21, 2006 @ 1:45 pm

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This "Jim Henson's Puppet Improv" has me a bit confused, actually.

Or, rather, the title does.

Was this something Jim started before he died? Or do they just name it after him because he sort of fronted the "technology" the puppeteers use?

With the Jim Henson name attached I thought it was because it featured a puppet or two he created, but as far as I can tell none of them were in other Muppet productions.

I just wonder why the name. Surely Brian Henson's Puppet Improv would not have as much of a draw to it, but it sounds more appropriate...and it'd have enough celebrity to get them exposure...

By Philip J Reed, VSc
August 22, 2006 @ 4:23 am

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I presume it's called that because the company is still called The Jim Henson Company.

By John Hoare
August 22, 2006 @ 4:44 am

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Alan Partridge: "It's as simple as that."

By Philip J Reed, VSc
August 22, 2006 @ 4:58 am

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Apparantly Puppet Up (not this particular performance) is being shown as a one hour special on Nov. 20 at 11 pm on TBS here in the states.

So anyone interested stateside, mark your calendars. Brits: check your local listings.

By Philip J Reed, VSc
November 10, 2006 @ 1:05 pm

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Excellent! I'll look out for that. Hopefully Channel 4 will show it or something...

By John Hoare
November 10, 2006 @ 4:05 pm

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Did you ever manage to see the special, Phil?

By John Hoare
June 10, 2008 @ 12:24 am

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